Author Archives: From Poverty to Power

Complexity v Simplicity: the challenge for Campaigners and Reformers

Had a few thought-provoking conversations on this last week. I increasingly see most problems (social, political, economic) as complex, i.e. arising from multiple causes in interconnected systems, often highly dependent on the specific context and history of any given place/population. My campaigner friends generally hate such talk, because their gut feeling is that it makes taking action to change the world much more difficult. We …

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DFID is 20 years old: has its results agenda gone too far?

DFID just turned 20 and Craig Valters (right) and Brendan Whitty (left) have a new paper charting its changing relationship to results  Focusing on results in international development is crucial. At this level of abstraction, how could one argue otherwise? Yet it matters how development agencies are managed for these results. We know that with proper management systems, aid interventions can be very effective; but if poorly managed, …

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Book Review: The Road to Somewhere, by David Goodhart

There was a moment a few years ago when I was walking through Brixton with my son, Calum. I was tediously droning on about how much I loved the cultural and ethnic kaleidoscope, compared to the plain vanilla places where I grew up. Calum suddenly turned on me – ‘you’re just a tourist; you visit on Saturdays. It’s different growing up here’ and proceeded to …

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Research into Use: how can Climate Change Researchers have more Impact?

Following on the recent kerfuffle about ‘research impact’ (see original and follow up posts), I spent some time chatting to climate researchers in Cape Town about ‘research into use’ (RiU, basically the same thing). The researchers are part of ASSAR, a consortium (of which Oxfam is a member) working across Africa and India with a big focus (30% of its project weighting) on RiU. Feel …

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What do you do, when you don’t know what to do? Careers advice for the confused.

A colleague was recently waxing eloquent about George Monbiot’s advice to aspiring journalists (he gets so many enquiries that he’s written it up). It’s nicely written, as you’d expect, and basically urges young would-be Georges to follow their stars rather than money or security. Don’t go and do something you hate (eg write press releases for some pointless PR firm or fluff pieces for a …

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Aidspeak: some of your best/worst responses to my call for examples

Well you took a few hours to get started in response to Tuesday’s post, but then the floodgates opened and an avalanche of bullshit crashed over me via blog comments and tweets (and yes, mixed metaphors were discussed). Cheers guys. Within the aid business, a few patterns appear: Management obfuscation which sheds almost no light on what is actually being discussed This from ‘NGO worker …

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Loneliness, Love, Anger and Activism

Spent a morning at the Ashridge Business School Masters in Sustainability and Responsibility last week. The School is extraordinary – a Hogwarts-esque stately home full of statues and vaulted ceilings, formerly Henry VIII’s crib, set in a country park dotted with croquet lawns and mighty oaks. The conversation was also pretty good – 15 Masters students from every continent/walk of life. Only a couple of …

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Ditching the Masterplan. How can Urban Development become ‘Politically smart, locally led’?

Guest post from Harry Jones and Bishnu Adhikari, both of Palladium on what urban aid and development can learn from the Doing Development Differently movement The international development community has come some way in grappling with complex problems, but urban development has lagged behind. Urban programmes systematically underperform according to their own results frameworks and internal evaluations. The failures are probably already familiar to those …

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Empowerment and Accountability in Messy Places. Need your advice on Nigeria, Pakistan, Myanmar…

My post-book research plans are shaping up, so it’s time to ask for your advice. As well as the work I blogged about recently on Public Authority in fragile/conflict-affected settings, I’m doing some research with Oxfam and Itad on how ‘adaptive management’ plays out in those same settings. Here’s the blurb: ‘There is much hype and attention given to new models of development programming that …

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Are top academic and aid institutions getting away with bad writing?

Guest post from the ODI’s Caroline Cassidy I almost choked on my porridge last week when I read about the World Bank’s chief economist Paul Romer being sidelined for wanting his team to communicate more clearly. I re-read the article to check I wasn’t missing something, but there it was: Romer had pushed his staff to write more clearly ‘asking for shorter emails and insisting …

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How will we know if the SDGs are having any impact?

As long time readers of the blog will know, I’ve been a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) sceptic since long before they were even agreed. However, I’ve been hearing a fair amount about them recently – people telling me that governments North and South, companies and city administrations are using them to frame public commitments and planning and reporting against them. So maybe it’s time to …

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There was never a better time for the US to leave global climate talks

Op-ed by Tim Gore, Head of Policy, Advocacy and Research of Oxfam’s GROW Campaign Oxfam began campaigning for a global climate agreement in 2007. We have sent teams to every COP and every single negotiating session ever since. Along with many partners and allies, we have held stunts, published papers, generated media coverage, lobbied incessantly and mobilised many many thousands of people to push governments …

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The imaginary advocate, the benefits of Command and Control, and why I’m just channelling…

Continuing the download from the recent LSE-ODI workshop on ‘new experimentalism’ was this thought-provoking description by David Kennedy of the ‘imaginary advocate’, the assumed individual behind How Change Happens and, by extension, a lot of NGO advocacy. Might be a very interesting addition to the endless awaydays, strategic planning processes etc to ask people to try and spell out the imaginary subjects of their own …

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The case against optimism: A Harvard Law Prof critiques How Change Happens

Last week I had the ‘on the psychotherapist’s couch’ experience of having the assumptions behind How Change Happens put under the microscope by two very big brains – Harvard’s David Kennedy and LSE’s Stephen Humphreys. This was part of a joint LSE/ODI seminar on ‘new experimentalism’ (which seems to be the legal studies equivalent of Adaptive Management).  I thought their critiques were brilliant (and lyrical …

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